(October 27, 2004)
Having played contact sports like football and ice hockey for most of my life, I was intrigued when I took up running by the possibility of moving more than 10 yards without someone trying to take my head off.
Then my son, Alex, reminded me of the recent Olympic Marathon in Athens when the leader was tackled by a lunatic wearing a kilt and a beret. He said that if it would help he would don a kilt and beret and try to tackle me near Mile 20 during Sunday’s Detroit Free Press Marathon.
But I saw something like that specter near the 18-mile mark on Sunday. It was there that the training, conditioning, and race strategy were jumbled and replaced by something else – the doubt that creeps into your head with its “what-am-I-doing-here” questions.
As first-time marathoners, my wife, Lorrie, and I started deep in the pack of 10,318 runners. We did not see winners Joseph Nderita of Kenya or Elena Orlova of Russia. We didn’t see Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.
We did smell the tortillas being baked at 8:15 a.m. in Mexican Town, we saw the sunrise over the Ambassador Bridge, and we heard the echoes from whoops of runners in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
The view of my hometown was large and loud — a sensory overload.
Near Mile 18, ascending the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle in the Detroit River, the area of preview had shrunk to a 10-yard circle around me, and that was shrinking with each and every stride.
But by Mile 22 there was no turning back and no matter what discomfort the shortest distance to the end of this marathon was to focus on Ford Field and the finish line up ahead. You also consider the opportunity that you have before you. An opportunity to complete and earn something that can’t be purchased off the shelf.
The light at the end of the tunnel appeared literally when we descended through the stadium service entry and appeared in the open in the West end zone with only about 50 yards of Detroit Lions’ FieldTurf to the finish.
After crossing the line we were immediately making plans for another marathon.
There’s something to be said for an endeavor as simple and fair as running 26.2 miles.
Race, religion, family background, and money have little to do with what propels each individual against the voice inside their head telling them to quit.
But there are no referee’s mistakes, or cheating, or video replays. It is pretty plain that each individual gets exactly what he or she deserves in a marathon.
There’s no organization to smooth and straighten your running path, no bankroll to soften the pavement, no do-gooder to make each footfall easier. You are pretty much on your own.
You line up with an open road in front of you, and each and every runner’s success is determined by the training and dedication that they have applied to the task.
I’ll take that.